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COLLABORATION & INNOVATION: Advancing Town-Gown Relations and Student Learning at Sunnyvale University Charli Bryan, Caitlin Green, and Joan Kwiatek (Team Leader) Lynch School of Education Boston College 2013 Virtual Case Study Competition

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Advancing Town-Gown Relations and Student Learning

at Sunnyvale University

Charli Bryan, Caitlin Green,

and Joan Kwiatek (Team Leader)

Lynch School of Education

Boston College

2013 Virtual Case Study Competition


OUR CHARGE:To foster collaboration and innovation across campus and the community to support a thriving town/gown relationship and further the mission of SU.

Our Context:

  • Located at the edge of a quaint New England town
  • Has been an integral part of the area since its founding (mid-1800’s)
  • Has expanded into the town center as it has grown in both full-time students and prestige (offering both undergraduate and graduate programs)
  • Has experienced a breakdown in its previously symbiotic relationship with the community (e.g., disruptive late night parties)
  • Our Committee:
  • Convened representatives from across campus, including Residence Life, Student Activities, Campus Safety/Police, Health Promotion, Service-Learning, VPSA/Assessment, Multicultural Center, and LGBTQ Center; chaired by Dean of Students.
  • Sought student representation by reaching out to the Undergraduate and Graduate Government and faculty representation by reaching out to the Faculty Senate.
  • Included community voice through town’s Deputy Mayor.
outstanding questions

To best address the needs of the SU campus and community, we

would seek to better understand:

  • What is SU’smission?
  • How does SU define ‘student learning’?
  • How does SU use assessment to drive continuous improvement?
  • How would SU characterize its organizational culture? What barriers to collaboration have been encountered in the past?
  • What are SU’s most popular academic programs?
  • Does SU have service- or leadership-oriented living-learning communities?
  • How does SU structure its orientation program for incoming students?
  • What role do SU athletic events play in the community?
  • How active are SU alumni, and how does SU currently engage with its alumni?
  • What kind of budgetary constraints should the committee work within?

For the purposes of this case study, we assume that SU:

  • Is coeducational and is composed of primarily traditional age, first-time undergraduates.
  • Is a residential campus with students living off-campus as well.
  • Is a dry campus.
  • Is not religiously affiliated.
  • Has not established a strategic communication plan using social media.
  • Does not have sanctions for off-campus violations/community disturbances.
analysis of problem

The committee intends to engage all stakeholders—including the student body, administration, Board of Trustees, alumni, community leaders, and community members—in its short-term and long-term considerations.

Over the past three weeks we have conducted focus groups with students in an effort to determine what motivates their activity off-campus. Additionally, we have set up social media and email accounts to which townspeople have been encouraged to send concerns, questions, etc.

  • Survey:
  • Concerned students’ average alcohol consumption and off-campus activities.
  • Was sent to a random selection of 100 students from each class level; 257 responses were received.
  • Focus Groups:
  • Conducted 3 focus groups of 15 students each.  
  • Randomly selected students from the pool of survey respondents.
  • Lasted 1 hour each.
response analysis survey and focus groups
RESPONSE ANALYSIS:Survey and Focus Groups
  • Students are unfamiliar with the residential population surrounding the university; students are under the impression they are surrounded by an older, affluent population and are unaware that young, middle-class families also live near campus.
  • Because students believe there are large age and economic gaps between themselves and the surrounding community, there a disconnect between the two groups.
  • Students are only familiar with the affluent areas of Sunnyvale because that area houses their campus. The less affluent areas are across town and students do not usually venture that far; they get to the heart of downtown where the nightlife is and don’t go any farther.
  • Students want to drink. Campus does not offer opportunities for such activities.
  • There is a negative stigma attached to weekend, late-night programming on campus.
theoretical framework kolb s experiential learning theory
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK:Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory
  • Learning = "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience" (Kolb, 1984, p. 41)
  • Emphasizes the integral role that experience plays in the learning process
  • Associated with positive outcomes in: personal and interpersonal development; understanding and applying knowledge; engagement, curiosity, and reflective practice; critical thinking; perspective transformation; and citizenship (Eyler & Giles, 1999)
  • RELEVANCE TO SU:Programs should intentionally encourage students to move through all fourstages of the learning cycle: be actively involved in an experience, reflect on the experience, use analytic skills to conceptualize and better understand the experience, and develop the necessary skills to apply the experience in new contexts.
potential appplications of experiential learning theory for su
POTENTIAL APPPLICATIONS of Experiential Learning Theory for SU
  • Community Service & Service-Learning Initiatives: Universities can contribute to a community’s economic development, educational and health needs, and cultural life; they have valuable resources that "become accessible to the community when partnerships address community needs" (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996, p. 221). Consider programs that directly address identified problems.
  • Social Media: There is significant potential for the intersection of experiential education and social media. Arnold and Paulus (2010), for example, found the use of social networking in formal learning environments to result in community building and modeling.
theoretical framework astin s theory of involvement
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK:Astin’s Theory of Involvement
  • Student learning is positively related to level of involvement in the academic and social aspects of the college environment
  • Involved students devote considerable energy to academics, spend significant time on campus, actively participate in student organizations and activities, and interact regularly with faculty (Astin, 1984)
  • Reflected in the National Survey of Student Engagement’s understanding of student engagement as being related to (1) the amount of time and effort students put into their studies and other educationally purposeful activities and (2) how an institution uses its resources and organizes the curriculum and other learning opportunities to get students to participate in activities linked to student learning
  • “Perhaps we need to expand the concept of ‘learning’ to include affective as well as cognitive outcomes. Certainly it can be argued that students can and should ‘learn about’ or ‘acquire skill in’ such things as leadership, self-understanding, interpersonal relations, and citizenship” (Astin, 1999).
  • Relevance to SU:Student growth is fostered when there are high quality programs and polices reflective of an institution’s commitment to student learning.

Launch Campaign:

“Putting You in the Community”

  • Put the Social in Social Media
  • Connect with Our Community
  • Give Back to Our Community
  • Celebrate Our Community
  • Partner with Faculty
  • Focus on Community Conduct
  • Support Meaningful Campus Involvement
  • Hold Ourselves Accountable & Foster Continuous Improvement
put the social in social media
  • Establish social media presence to encourage open channels of communication among students, administration, and community members.
  • Create home base (web page)for university’s social media presence to aggregate content and shape digital identity.
  • Instagram: Photograph various events that occur on campus and in the neighboring area.
  • Foursquare: Publicize new “mayors” of volunteer sites and consider creating location-based rewards when students check in to certain sites. Foursquare offers users and businesses a "richer method of interacting” and has significant potential for civic engagement (Salt, 2011, p. 108).
put the social in social media1
  • Twitter (#SU4U, @OurSunnyvaleU)
  • Facebook(
  • Invite and respond to community feedback; post campus and community news; promote campaignprograms; engage with followers through questions and contests.
connect with our community
  • Attend town hall meetings to understand community perspective and develop relationships with community members.
  • Seek input on ideas for a strategic communication plan (e.g., monthly newsletter to community members, preventative emails to students before large-scale events).
  • Create email address for community feedback for those community members who do not feel comfortable using Facebook or Twitter to share comments.
  • Explore budget potential for full-time staff person/community liaison in the Dean of Students Office.
give back to our community
  • Establish ‘Sunnyvale Saturdays,’ a new initiative to establish an ongoing and consistent opportunity for interaction between students and the Sunnyvale community.
  • Students will clean up the neighboring community on Saturday mornings and then enjoy breakfast provided by SU.
  • Incorporate opportunities for reflection.
celebrate our community
  • Establish Servicepalooza, an annual day of service, to launch September 14, 2013.
  • The goal of this program is to bring together members of the campus and the surrounding community and to provide  students with various ways to serve their larger community.
  • This event will occur in September during each academic year, followed by Sunnyvale Saturdays to continue serving the neighboring community.
partner with faculty
  • Develop collaborative relationships with faculty members to continue to build community on campus and support student learning (through all four Kolb stages) in and out of the classroom (NASPA & ACPA, 2004).
  • Consider opportunities to integrate service-learning into academic programs or assignments.
  • Explore potential for a living-learning community that focuses on leadership through service (collaboration between academic and student affairs).
focus on community conduct
  • Consider changes to on-campus policies regarding alcohol on campus.
  • Consider establishment of sanctions for community disturbances.
support meaningful campus involvement
  • Establish late-night programming board to plan alcohol-free, on-campus events during the hours of 9pm and 2am, Thursdays through Saturdays, in an effort to provide students with alternatives to drinking and other activities that lead to community disruptions.
  • With budget approval, consider recruiting student leaders for the board this spring.
hold ourselves accountable
  • Develop systematic assessment plan for developing, conducting, and reviewing assessment to drive continuous improvement (Upcraft & Schuh, 1996). Consider impact of campaign on all stakeholders (e.g., students, faculty, institution, community).
  • As part of program development, utilize logic models to create student learning outcomes/objectives for each proposed program/policy (e.g., Servicepalooza, student conduct).
  • Consider focus groups to continue to explore program/policy ideas and/or better understand progress toward campaign goals (Billson, 1996).
foster continuous improvement
  • Reevaluate committee’s goals on a regular basis.
  • Conduct benchmarking against peer and aspirational institutions using the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE); if possible, compare NSSE results pre- and post-campaign. (If SU did not already participate in NSSE, have committee consider the potential value of NSSE to SU’s campaign and mission.)
  • After some period of program implementation and if consistent with SU’s mission and long-term goals, consider applying for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s Elective Community Engagement Classification as a way to further raise visibility of SU’s commitment to community engagement, foster institutional alignment for community-based teaching, learning and scholarship, and provide an opportunity for institutional self-assessment (Campus Compact, n.d.).

Arnold, N., & Paulus, T. (2010). Using a social networking site for experiential learning: Appropriating, lurking, modeling and community building. The Internet and Higher Education, 13(4), 188-196.

Astin, A. W. (1984). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Personnel, 25(4), 297-308.

Astin, A. W. (1999). Involvement in learning revisited: Lessons we have learned. Journal of College Student Personnel, 40, 518-529.

Billson, J. M. (1996). The power of focus groups: A training manual for social, policy, and market research; Focus on education. (3rd ed.) Barrington, RI: Skywood Press.

Bringle, R. G., & Hatcher, J. A. (1996). Implementing service-learning in higher education. The Journal of Higher Education, 67(2), 221-239.

Campus Compact. (n.d.). Carnegie Community Engagement Classification. Retrieved from

Eyler, J., & Giles, D. E., Jr. (1999). Where's the learning in service-learning? San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Kolb, D. A., Boyatzis, R. E., & Mainemelis, C. (2009). Experiential Learning Theory: Previous research and new directions. In R. J. Sternberg and L. F. Zhang (Eds.), Perspectives on cognitive, learning, and thinking styles (pp. 193-210). NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2000.

National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and the American College Personnel Association. (2004). Learningreconsidered: A campus-wide focus on the student experience. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Salt, S. (2011). Social location marketing: Outshining your competitors on Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, and other location sharing sites. Indianapolis, IN: Pearson Education, Que Publishing.

Upcraft, M. L. & Schuh, J. H. (1996). Assessmentin student affairs: A guide for practitioners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.